The Spirit – Power that Overwhelms and Transforms

A brief conversation this morning on the side of the road as we wandered along caused me to ponder.  An elderly fellow Nico and I often meet on our wanderings stopped to chat.  Covid-19 inevitably came up amidst other topics.  We both commented on the response of many people in the USA, how they want to express and emphasise their own individual and personal freedom to choose and ‘do’ over and against the well-being of the communities in which they live.  It certainly isn’t confined to the USA but we wondered how people living in the nation that has over 100,000 deaths and high levels of infection are more concerned about what they want to do than the well-being of the community?  We also commented on the relative capacity and wisdom of various world leaders – the people in power!

It was this line that got me thinking – the people in power, who have power to make decisions on behalf of the societies in which they live.  This notion of power feels, to me, to be at the heart of many things we are seeing around us.  Scientists will tell us that the power of the human race to dominate and destroy land and habitat, and the power to travel and move freely across the world, makes pandemics such as we are experiencing more inevitable.  A virus hidden in deep jungles has more possibility of connecting with humans as the jungles and forests are decimated and we live closer to the sources of such viral enemies.  An infection in one part of the world is able to quickly travel via human movement and soon everyone in impacted.

More than that though, I wonder if what we see in people agitating for more freedoms, protesting and taking action is really about reclaiming some control, order and power in personal life?  I wonder if what we experience is humans who feel the need to be empowered and to control something in life, take things into their own hands and ‘do as they please?’  We see evidence of humanity’s need for power and control in so much of life.  Young (and not so young) who get behind the wheel of a fast, powerful car and feel the sense of exhilaration as they press the pedal to the metal and fly down highway and byway.  They are in control of a great power, whether wisely and skilfully or not is another question.  In political manoeuvrings there is the desire for power and to have authority they can wield for good or ill.  Across the world we see examples of egotistical (narcissistic?) leaders taking control and abusing power to dominate people, violate human rights and use violence and fear to control and manipulate people.

Whether through wealth, positional authority, legal controls, fame or any other means, many seek power they can wield.  This is power that people can hold, control and use.  It is power in their hands and at their disposal and it can be very dangerous!  Such power requires great wisdom and compassionate awareness.  It should be about the common good of the Earth and all inhabitants but rarely is.  There are a few leaders who have been formed through struggle and suffering, whose egos are suitably ‘squashed down’ and who can handle such power with grace and wisdom.  I think of the likes of Nelson Mandela, who through the crucible of suffering (27 years imprisonment) was humbled and vulnerable and gained wisdom.  Alas, much power wrests in the hands of foolish and greedy individuals who are self-interested and think little of others.

This week across the Christian Church, the third major festival occurs.  It is called Pentecost.  Originally this Greek work indicated the Feast of Weeks (a week of weeks after Passover – hence ‘pente’= 50 days).  It was also called Shavuot, a Jewish Festival of harvest but also recalling Moses receiving of the law on Mt Sinai.  The context of the story is the first Jewish Festival of Pentecost after the first Easter (set against Jewish Passover).  The disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered together awaiting the promised gift of the Spirit to come to them – in power.  As they waited, prayed and on this day prepared for the celebration, there was a sound like wind and something like tongues of fire fill their room.  This was Luke’s attempt to describe the Spirit coming upon the people in power.  In the story (Acts 2:1-21), there is confusion and chaos as people are filled with this ‘power from on high’ and their joy, hope and the experience overwhelmed them and flowed out into the city of Jerusalem.  This fearful, uncertain group of people suddenly spoke out with courage and faith, in languages of the world they inhabited.  Jerusalem, filled with pilgrims from across the Empire had people of many language and culture and they all heard the proclamation of God’s love, grace and Reign in the language of their heart.  The joy, passion and vitality of these followers of Jesus overwhelmed many people who responded by joining the group that quickly swelled in number and continued to do so as God’s love and Presence in Spirit transformed them.

The power they felt and experienced was not a power they could control or manipulate.  It was a power they had to submit to and give themselves up to.  It was and is a power that transforms people and communities as the flow of love and justice, wonder and hope, joy and mercy floods life.  It is about the Reign of God that stands over and against all the reigns of kings, queens and rulers of all the dominions on Earth.  It is a Realm of love that draws us out of ourselves and connects us through relationship as a human family that is part of the material world of time and space, which finds life and being in the heart of God’s love.  This is an uncontrollable power that carries us along.  It overwhelms us, like the Apostle Paul who, on his mission to round up and imprison Christians, was overwhelmed on the Damascus Road, brought to his knees by a light and a voice.  He submitted to this power and let himself go into its wonder and life and was given a new direction, mission and way of being that was not his but the Spirit of God’s.

The difference between these powers is that one we want and believe we can have, own and control and the other we must let go of ourselves and allow its flow to take us where it will.  This is a journey of faith, trusting that God’s love and grace is sufficient and answers the deepest yearning of the human heart.  It is the realisation that God is our destination, our home and where we belong, and this power of Spirit will lead us into new life that is connected and relational.  This is the Week of Reconciliation and invites us to think and act for reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of this land.  Relationship is at the heart of the Indigenous cultures that occupied this land for millennia.  The Spirit gave wisdom and life to live relationally with land, country, and each other in complex systems.  We have much to learn from their wisdom and to help undo the dominating use of power that dehumanises and destroys.  The power of the Spirit is lifegiving love for all.

By geoffstevenson

A World Restored…?

I have been wrestling with a question this week.  It is an old question that is also very modern.  It is a question, in its various forms, that we ask and ponder.  The question is about how the world is and why?  It relates to why things happen the way they do – especially the sad, painful and tragic experiences of life.  It asks why these things happen when we proclaim a God of love – and more so, often the claim of God being ‘all-powerful,’ whatever is meant by that.  If God is loving, kind and all-powerful, why is there suffering?  Why Covid-19?  Why poverty and earthquakes and tsunamis and bushfires and floods…?  Why do people suffer?

The particular form of the question I read and have been pondering comes from the ancient writings of ‘Luke’ in his second volume, called ‘Acts of the Apostles’.   As Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples, they ask him: ‘Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?’  By this, they are asking Jesus if this is the time when he will restore everything to the way he proclaims it is meant to be.  Is this the time that God will intervene and fulfil the proclamation of Jesus, that God’s Reign is here?  Is this the time when the prophetic words of Jesus will come to fulfilment?  In his first sermon in Luke’s Gospel Jesus speaks of release of captives, good news for the poor, liberation of oppressed and recovery of sight for the blind.  Through his ministry he speaks of the hungry being fed and the poor having enough, the oppressed peoples of the earth receiving distributive justice…  The disciples, therefore, want to know if this is finally the time when all of this will happen.  Is this the time when all will be made new or restored; when God will act?

The question is pitched as coming from the time of Jesus but also reflects the community of Luke’s time in the late 1st century.  This community of Jesus’ followers lived under the growing intensity of oppression under consecutive Roman Emperors and their local authorities.  They lived in growing tension with local authorities of their own nation and culture as Christianity and Judaism moved further apart.  They were a religious minority in a world where the few lived in affluence and power and the many were disempowered and impoverished.  There were tensions and struggles that people experienced in their ordinary life that made them yearn for renewal and for God’s Reign to be inaugurated in the world.  Why wasn’t it happening?  Why hadn’t it happened?  When and how would God’s Reign be realised within their hurting world?

Surely, and especially in the light of Covid-19, we ask similar questions, some from a religious perspective and others from an agnostic/atheist space, questioning the suffering in the world.  Why is all this happening and what does it mean?  Is there something, someone, behind it?  Where is God in all of this?

Jesus proclaimed that God’s Reign is at hand, very near, and stands over and against the powers and empires of the world in which we live.  His life, words and actions, proclaimed this Reign and people experienced the liberating love of God.  His ministry was inclusive, bringing people into a community of belonging.  There were outcasts and marginalised people, both rich and poor, sick, disabled, people of ‘questionable morals’ and they found themselves embraced in a love that was overwhelming in its inclusive beauty and healing as they found space within a community of grace.  This love was the power of God released into the world and ultimately revealed in Jesus’ resurrection.  Through crucifixion and death, Jesus was raised into new life in a new way.  This Divine love overcame death and the powers and principalities of the world and these followers experienced this eternal, Risen Christ in their midst.  Jesus revealed the face of God and the Risen Christ revealed and released this power of God in the world.

Jesus’ response to his disciples, and therefore proclaimed through Luke’s community 5-6 decades later, was that the times and ways of God are mysterious and known to God.  BUT, he said that they were to wait a little while and the Spirit of God would come upon them and they would become witnesses to this Reign of God in the world!  They would take the liberating, reconciling message of love and grace to the whole world!

In a very real way, this is Jesus’ answer – God’s Reign is here and all around!  We are witnesses to this reality in our world.  We experience God’s Reign of love bursting into our lives.  We can experience it in many ways and places – the very real beauty and wonder of our world and of life together.  We encounter the richness of life in story and art, music and movies, meals together and sharing the deep moments of life, joyful and sad.  The Reign of God is that which is about love and beauty, wonder and joy, hope and resilience, justice and peace for all people.  It is present wherever love is present, and people are welcomed and included into a community of belonging.  It calls us out of ourselves and the individualism that predominates across our world and seeks the common good of all people and the creation.  It is opposed to the violence, domination, oppression and injustice that destroys hope and denies life to so many people.  It calls us onto another path beyond accumulation and dependence upon wealth and material possessions that claim our attention and being and separate us from others. It is revealed in the self-sacrifice and selfless lives that move us and inspire us and the wisdom of those ‘saints’ who call us into something deeper and more profound than the ordinary story that dominates the life of our world – ‘me and mine’, ‘power and wealth’, tribalism that excludes and marginalises, and discrimination and judgement.

When this apocalyptic good news bursts into our lives or gently takes hold of our being in a moment of profound wonder, love or suffering, we begin to see differently; we glimpse the world beyond the world, that Jesus called the Reign of God.  Sometimes it flashes past, an idea through our mind or an image that grabs us but isn’t fully formed.  Sometimes we are brought to our knees in deep yearning or hope, wonder or joy.  We may not know where to go with this, what to do with the experience and we may fear where it will take us or what it might mean.  Jesus’ invitation to his disciples, and through them to Luke’s community of disciples and down the generations to us, is to quietly let go, to pray in expectation and await God’s action in our lives – the Spirit of Life.  As we experience, more deeply, the mystery of God’s Reign and awaken to its truth, justice and life, we become witnesses living into this life.  Our witness is a life lived in the way of Christ, the way of peace, hope, inclusive love and justice.  It becomes the reality of our words and actions and attitudes towards others and the world and it embraces every sphere of our being, political, religious, work, family, leisure. This is how the world is changed, when God can work in and through you and I to witness to the way of Love and justice.

By geoffstevenson

In Whom We Live, Move, Breathe…

Are we a religious society?  The usual response is, ‘no’.  Of course, data related to traditional, organised religions, indicates there has been decline for some time.  It is a strong minority of people who belong to religious traditions and participate regularly – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the various others.

I wonder, though.  As I wonder down the streets of city and suburb or journey through social media, television, radio, music, sport and other areas of life, I experience a range of ways people engage in various forms of religious activity and worship or sacrifice on the altars of the deities that fill our lives and to whom we turn for hope, meaning, comfort, distraction or joy.  We speak of the economy, for example, as though it is a living, breathing reality we must care for, appease and pacify lest it not bless us and offer the fruits of that blessing through wealth and prosperity.  The affluent addresses of the city, generally in high rise buildings with spectacular views, house the political, financial, legal and corporate power and wealth of our society.  People who give much of themselves in work and sacrifice on the altars, to the cause they hold dear and from which they hope to derive fulfilment and life.

In the mega-malls that occupy city blocks are the plurality of shops and businesses vying for attention and consumer spending.  They promise the world, if necessary, or the answer to the struggles of problems we face.  It is interesting to recognise there is a plethora of places that deal with ‘image’; how we look, appear and try to define and understand ourselves, and the image we present to the world.  There are therapists, gyms and professionals who deal with skin, hair, nails, diets and physique.  There is a diversity of clothing stores seeking to create the image through our dress – cool, mod, chic, outdoor rugged looks, sporty, formal.  The list goes on.  Accessories and add to the flavour and image we present, giving us and others a sense of who we are.

Food outlets, cafes, restaurants, bars all provide for our desires in food, diet, celebration, meeting and spaces for conversation.  Department stores and specialty stores seeking to provide us with everything we never dreamed or thought of owning, exist to create that need, desire and satisfaction.  We enter and are greeted, given commentary on this or that product, service, gadget, for which we hand over money, receive a blessing and leave.  There are elements in common with many forms of religious service.  We leave with a renewed sense of hope or meaning or purpose or delight, contented and happy.

Down other lanes and byways, there are the pubs, clubs and even casinos where food, drink and gambling are possible – everything from TAB and betting the horses (or any other sporting event) through KENO, Lotto and poker machines.  Many people who engage in these as regular activities sacrifice money and time for the hope of a windfall that will solve their problems, giving them life of joy and fun.  There are rituals and processes that many people religiously follow, and their trust and hope is placed in these things.  Of course, there forms of gambling that are more sophisticated and depend a little more on skill and knowledge than pure luck – the high roller games of casinos or the stock market and other forms of investment.  Such investment demonstrates where we place hope or meaning or purpose, on money and accumulation of assets that will provide security for the future.

We are a religious people in many ways, and I suppose I am yet to meet someone who is not seeking for something more or yearning within for a deeper hope, or comfort or distraction.  We seek and look in many places and where there is the tendency away from religious worship offered through churches, synagogues and so on, we turn to other places and ideologies and recreate worship, religion, hope and meaning in other forms through other deities.

Across our society there are many groups who engage in meditation and mindfulness, drawing down deep into the silent places to find peace and calm and sometimes wisdom.  Ultimately, we may find ourselves drawn out of ourselves to embrace a larger picture or experience of life and the world.  These practices often differ little from the forms of prayer and mediation or contemplation offered through traditional religious forms and they feed our spirit.  Other people commune with nature and find themselves embraced into a world of connectedness, a web of relationship with Earth and its creatures, its forms and diversity.  Most of us gasp in wonder at a beautiful vista or sunrise/sunset.  Something within us is touched and moved and shifts as we encounter something bigger and more profound, a beauty that draws us in and out.  There is a Spirit that touches our spirit and we know something different and bigger.  This Spirit comes to us in our prayers and yearning, expressed purposely to God or into an unknown, infinite space of uncertainty.  This Spirit hears the cries of people and is present to us in our awareness or lack thereof.

Paul wandered into the ancient city of Athens (see Acts 17:22-31) and observed there, the idols and gods worshipped and appealed to in statues, monuments, buildings…  Amongst these monuments and idols to the gods there was one to ‘the Unknown God.’ Paul was invited to the Areopagus, the public place where people listened, discussed, debated ideas and philosophy, to speak into the crowd of what he knew, this strange and different ‘philosophy,’ perhaps.  In addressing the people, Paul admired their religiosity, their search for truth and desire to worship the gods of their world.  He noted all manner of gods, worshipped and remembered or symbolised in statues, monuments, idols of every form.  As he spoke he highlighted the statue to ‘the Unknown God’ and said that he would speak to them of the very thing they worshipped but were ignorant of – this God who was still unknown.  Paul speaks to the people about a God who created everything that is and does not live in human Temples and is not served by human hands, as thought God needs anything.  This God is the One who gives everything life and breath. This God is revealed to us in Jesus, who lived amongst people, the human face of God.  Jesus witnessed to the Kingdom/Kindom or Reign of God that is everywhere around.  God is experienced in everything for God is the origin and source of all things, ‘the One in whom we live and move and have our being.’  This is a quote from one of their ancient poets and speaks of God as the ground, the source the origin of all things and who is experienced in love, justice, hope and peace that characterise the Reign and life of God.  All things are held in God’s Spirit that breathes life and form into everything and breaks into our lives with unfolding grace that transforms and renews us.  We experience this God in everything as our eyes open and our heart yearns and we let go to be embraced into the heart of Love at the centre of everything, the Living God who has a face and comes to us and loves us.

By geoffstevenson

The Way of Compassion and Love that Leads to Life.

As things in our world unravel through this strange time we are in, we are left to wonder where it will lead and what will come of all this.  Will we simply return to normal, whatever that was, such that these months of isolation and solitude, of connecting via the digital world, will feel like a strange dream from which we emerge?  I suspect that for many there is a yearning that it will all go away, and everything magically be restored.  There is much pain and struggle, both health issues and economic.  The situation in the Developing World doesn’t gain much media attention and their plight is more serious than it was before all of this.

For some people, there is a pondering: does this pandemic provide a deeper experience and insight into life in our world?  Do we look around and see things differently?  Are we drawn into a deeper sense of relationship and life with each other and the Earth?  Do we really want to return to what was?  Was it really that good, that just and fair?  Was it sustainable for the human race and the Earth and its creatures?

Maybe there is a deeper awareness emerging amongst some people.  We have time to recognise the needs and struggles of one another.  We can see and feel the sense of struggle the Earth has been liberated from over these last months – the air is clearer, rivers are clearing and there is a peace within the world beyond our doors and concrete edifices.  Social isolation has been difficult, and we’ve felt disconnected but perhaps that helped us appreciate more deeply being connected to other people.  Maybe we’ve discovered other ways of being beyond busy-ness and making more money to spend on more stuff…  Maybe we can appreciate a simpler way of being that touches us more deeply and allows us to live more fully into each moment – rather than projecting onto the future moment(s) that never seems to arrive.  Maybe Covid-19 has enabled us to recognise that humanity is not the centre of everything.  The Earth and creatures live more freely without humans interfering so much.  The Earth doesn’t really need us – as much as we need the Earth.

This strange time is confusing and difficult and there is much suffering amongst people who are struggling economically to make ends meet.  The poor will always suffer more.  There is also a recognition of the change that has come upon us and we wonder what the future really will be like.  There is grief as we recognise the loss or change and confusion as we struggle to make sense of where all this is taking us, requiring from us and what the post-Covid-19 world will be like.  It is puzzling, confusing and uncertain.

In the passage for this week (John 14:1-14) the disciples are puzzled, confused, and uncertain as Jesus speaks openly of the ending of their journey together.  He is approaching death and will no longer be them – at least in the same incarnate way.  Jesus will be put to death and move through it to the mystery of resurrection and ascension.  He will return to the place where he belongs, ‘home’ in God.  He tells them not to allow their hearts to be troubled nor afraid but to believe in him and in God, that there is hope and life, comfort and belonging!  He says he goes to prepare a place for the disciples and where he is, they will go also – they know the way.  Dear Thomas interrupts with questions and doubts, confusion, asking: ‘We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?’

Jesus responds with words that have been used in various ways since.  He says to Thomas: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.  No-one comes to the Father except through me.’  This is either the height of egotistical arrogance or profound truth and wisdom.  On the lips of some world leaders these words become dangerous realities – communist rulers, fascist dictators – and even leaders of liberal democracies who seek to control truth and wisdom and use the force of positional authority, personal power or media spin to control and manipulate news and information.  Either Jesus is deluded or pointing us to something deeper and more life-giving then other relative truths in our pluralistic society.

In Jesus’ day, these words stood him in stark contrast to the powers and authorities of his world, namely the Roman Emperor.  Caesar was all-powerful and Roman Imperial Theology/Religion legitimated his authority, power and the truth of his words.  His word had the power of life and death and was the uncontested truth.  To deny the truth of Caesar was treasonous and warranted death.  For Jesus to claim that he is the way, he is the truth and he is the life-giving one, was to proclaim that Caesar was not – the way, truth or life.

In our world Jesus’ words stand against the pluralism of competing truths that lay claim to our lives – economic truths, ideological truths, political truths, religious truths and the claims made upon us by anyone and everyone.  There is no shortage of truth if we are willing to listen to the world around.  I wonder, though where this multitude of truths lead us?  Personal opinion and ideological belief systems make all manner of promises but where do they lead?  What is the ‘way’ predicated by these ‘truths’ and what is required of us as we pursue economic and material prosperity or growth in ‘standards of living?’  What is the impact of the extremes in individualism and a world driven by personal rights over and against the needs of others?  When we accumulate more for ourselves, who inevitably misses out and what is the impact on the lives of other people – especially the poor of the world?

Jesus proclaimed and lived a way that was, and is, grounded in love and compassion.  It is characterised by forgiveness, mercy, justice and the inclusive embrace of all people.  This way of love transcends the violence and individualism that impacts our world in too many ways.  Jesus tells the disciples that if they have seen him they have seen God. If they have looked into the life and being of Jesus, they know what God is like – love, deep and profound, all-encompassing and life-giving.  According New Testament Commentator, Rev Dr Bill Loader, Jesus’ claim to be the way, truth and life, “is a fundamental Christian claim. For some it justifies an exclusive claim that denies that God is to be found anywhere else. For others it justifies the claim to find God wherever God is recognisable by such words and deeds, even where Christian claims are not made or not known… Trust that God is the way Jesus told us and demonstrated to us. That means two things, especially as we now think canonically and include more of the story of Jesus from the other gospels: we can trust in the God of compassion in which there’s a place for us (even if we know nothing else!) and we can know that the meaning of life is to share that compassion in the world – there’s a place for all! We can join that compassion wherever we recognise its ‘Jesus shape’, acknowledging it as life and truth and the only way.”

We are invited into the place of belonging, in God, where find our home, our peace and our life.  This way is the way of Jesus, a way that draws us into love, relationship, mercy, forgiveness, justice and faith that trusts in the One at the centre of all things.

By geoffstevenson

The Gateway into Life…

On the border between San Diego (California, USA) and Tijuana (Mexico), there is a plaza, a circular plaza.  It was on the border and a monument was erected, now on the Mexican side.  Last century a fence was built but it was possible to pass things through the fence, along with messages to family and friends on either side of the border.  In 2009, this was blocked when the Federal Government seized the land from California.  A more solid fence was built and extended out into the ocean about 300 metres.  Family gatherings were made more difficult and at times stopped altogether (from the US side).

Over a decade ago, two Methodist ministers, one on the Mexica side and the other on the US side began a church service.  They gathered with whoever wanted to be part of it and held a service each Sunday afternoon.  No longer able to share food through the fence   (apart from it being too hard to squeeze food through the very narrow space, there were now restrictions around quarantine).  They shared Holy Communion each week – both sides holding the elements and praying together, eating at the same time and uniting themselves to each other. There are prayers, readings and singing.  Over the years they have experienced various restrictions and hardships, often without warning – and all from the US side.  Originally 40 people were allowed in what is called Friendship Park and then suddenly that was reduced to 10 at a time without warning.  Sometimes they have been allowed to be close to the fence and pass the peace God by touching little fingers through small openings.  Other times they were required to be 15-20 metres away from the fence and therefore, each other.  They would worship via mobile phone.  What ever has been thrown in their way, they have countered creatively, with hope and patience.

Journalist, Amy Frykholm, visited the church and spoke to Methodist Minister, John Fanestil.  She says: The work of the border church includes claiming the “true nature of the border,” Fanestil says. The federal government wants to mark the border as a place of crime and danger and fear. “We know it as a place of encounter, exchange, friendship, fellowship. We try to show up weekly in order to show what the border is truly.” While the coronavirus has put this weekly in-person meeting on hiatus, the true identity continues to be claimed, on both sides of the border.

As I read a reflection on this church and the story around it, I thought about the strange passage for this week – John 10:1-10.  It contains a plethora of images around sheep, shepherds, sheepfolds, voices that are familiar and recognised, a gate and thieves and bandits.  It shifts the metaphors, with Jesus featuring as shepherd, gate, gatekeeper…

In the story about the US-Mexican border and the church that meets across it, there is hope and an opening.  The authorities want to close off contact and connection, to stop the interaction and exclude people through a barrier that is solid, keeping people in and out.   The Church transcends the barrier, connecting people across the fence and their differences of culture or politics, uniting them as people of God who are loved and united as one.  It is a powerful symbol of hope and friendship, of relationship and peace rather than conflict, division and fear.

It is into these places of fear, division, where barriers are built and fences erected, where people are isolated and excluded, that Jesus becomes a gateway into a new possibility of life and relationship.  Jesus calls himself a gate, an opening in the solidity of the walls and barriers that divide, creating a way to traverse these barriers and build relationship and community that is inclusive and life-giving.  Jesus, the Gate, pushes boundaries and barriers back, creating paths to freedom and life for everyone.

There are many barriers that divide us, or we erect against the world and those who are different.  We create barriers from fear, the need to control, for security and protect things we have.  There are many who find themselves enslaved behind the fences and walls of exclusion, prejudice and fear.  There are many who are excluded because of gender, age, culture, creed, sexual identity or orientation.  Others are excluded by virtue of mental or physical illness, disability of body or mind, psychological or emotional trauma from abuse, violence or war.  Such barriers divide and separate.  Jesus, the gate, breaks open our barriers and brings the hope of something new that unites people in the human family, embracing a world of diverse beauty and wonder.  It begins with a small hole that allows the Light to shine through.  We begin to ‘see’ and we’re drawn into something bigger than ourselves, something beyond ‘me.’  At the border church they can touch through small spaces and connect.  The voice of One who proclaims love and life resonates through their worship, across borders of division and exclusion calling them into life together as an inclusive community across time and space.

This gateway intrudes into the divisive and conflictual ways of people, creating the possibility of relationship that transcends our fear or hatred, greed or difference.  If we learn nothing more through the Covid-19 crisis, it may be that our experience of isolation and separation helps us understand and identify with those who live in more extreme isolation and exclusion.  Our simplified lives for a season may help us understand we don’t need as much as we have, and we can share with those who have too little.  In this time our Earth has breathed and rested and so have many of us.  Do we need to return to the frenetic lives of accumulation and expectation that engulf us in ordinary times?  Surely there is a gift in this wretched time that offers a way of hope and new life to the world – if we will listen and have the courage to move forward in a new way.  Jesus, the gate into new life and being has opened a possibility through this time, a voice of life echoes through the stories and lives of the world that yearns for rest and peace, calling us to imagine and believe that everything can be different.

In another reading for this week from Acts 2:42-47, there is a wonderful picture of early followers of Jesus, hearing his voice ring through the stories of their Scriptures, their experiences of Jesus and his life and the profound experience of resurrection that shattered their grief and false expectations.  They lived in a communal way where all was shared so no-one had too much or too little and those beyond this community also received help as they needed it.  The community shared meals and prayed, shared stories and life and their common life was grounded in love.  They were a living hope and Christ was in their midst.  People were drawn to this way of love and inclusion, so very different, and a place where age, gender, culture, economic status and all other categories and barriers were overcome.

The little Border Church is also a prophetic community that transcends hatred, division and exclusion in the way of Jesus, the gate who opens the way to liberation and life.

By geoffstevenson